Play turns to the past to guide the present

Millie Manning (left) and Grace Turipa star in Cindy Diver’s first full-length play Wahine...
Millie Manning (left) and Grace Turipa star in Cindy Diver’s first full-length play Wahine Mātātoa: the (mostly) true story of Erihāpeti Pātahi, being staged in a development season this weekend. Photo: supplied
Ōtepoti-based director, casting agent and writer Cindy Diver (Kāi Tahu) is bringing to the stage her first full-length play, Wahine Mātātoa: the (mostly) true story of Erihāpeti Pātahi, for a limited season this weekend.

A comedy of consequences, Wahine Mātātoa tells the story of wahine Kāi Tahu Elizabeth across time and space, as she navigates how to balance decisions that could end her dreams of adventure.

This happens as she visits the (mostly) true stories of her ancestor, Erihāpeti Pātahi — a high born, high-spirited wahine, and a force as untamable as the sea.

A direct descendent of the titular character, Diver has woven the play’s narrative around the stories of her fiery tupuna (ancestor), bringing to life a uniquely southern story that considers what parts of stories are passed down and what are pieced together from other sources.

Diver also draws parallels to her own life.

"This story has been rumbling around in my head since I was a child. Telling the story of my ancestor, her bravery, her stubbornness, her inability to be squished into a life she could not control," she said.

"I too, having chosen a crazy craft that’s perpetually fraught; I too, have an affinity with the idea of choosing the path less trod — and following my heart, no matter the consequences."

Director Juanita Hepi (Kāi Tahu, Ngāti Wai, Moriori, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāpuhi) returned to Ōtepoti to direct the development phase of the work, having been involved with the show during its inception as part of Ōtepoti Theatre Lab 2023.

In true alignment with the kaupapa, Hepi is collaborating with a team of predominantly Kai Tahu actors and production creatives, including renowned taonga pūoro artist, Ruby Solly. The actors are Millie Manning, Grace Turipa, Simon Anderson and Rosella Hart.

How do we navigate the future while holding on to our dreams? Turns out even the naughtiest of tupuna can guide us on our paths.

Wahine Mātātoa: the (mostly) true story of Erihāpeti Pātahi is presented in a three-day development season at Allen Hall Theatre, with four performances from June 21-23. The showings are free for the public, but require tickets — bookings via Eventbrite.

This development season has been made possible through the support of Creative New Zealand, Dunedin City Council and the Ngāi Tahu fund and is presented by Theatreworks and WOW! Productions.